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Zambia undiscovered 24 Travel Zambia November 2009 I n 1955, after a decade of indecision, Zambia's former colonial government pushed through its controversial plan to build a hydroelectric dam at Kariba. Work soon began on this mammoth project. For more than three years the formerly tranquil gorge reverberated with the roar of compressors and the rumble of mixers and crushers. Concrete was churned around the clock and moulded into a giant arching wall, while the steel jaws of mechanised monsters devoured the virgin bush. Muffl ed explosions echoed across the gorge, choking the sky with smoke, dust and debris. On 22 June 1959 calm returned. A wall of concrete at the neck of Kariba gorge blocked the Zambezi's path. The mountainous basin behind it now enclosed an entirely new landscape: a vast man- made lake, fringed by teak forests and game reserves, covered more than 5400km2 of the valley fl oor. Today it offers the visitor an eerily seductive shoreline of craggy African fjords and placid backwaters, where drowned With a surface area of more than 5400km2, Kariba is one of the world's largest manmade reservoirs It was exactly 50 years ago that the hand of man fi rst tamed the mighty Zambezi River. The building of the huge Kariba Dam in 1959 remains one of Africa's greatest engineering projects, bringing electricity to two nations and transforming the valley with a vast lake. But the project was not without its controversies. Philip Dickson visited Zambia's largest body of water to fi nd out more. Photography by David Godny FLOOD Holding back the

November 2009 Travel Zambia 25 Zambia undiscovered trees thrust their skeletal, sun- bleached branches at the scorched sky, and hippo, elephant and buffalo graze the lush wetlands. But this serenity belies a turbulent past. The inundation of the Zambezi floodplain destroyed hundreds of local villages on ancestral lands and stole vital habitat from countless wild animals. Threatened by the rising flood waters, 30,000 displaced Tonga people were resettled in Sinazongwe and Siavonga, while Operation Noah launched an animal rescue operation of epic proportions, saving over 7000 animals - from snakes to elephants - by capturing and releasing them onto higher ground. Joe Brooks, now 80, moved to Zambia in 1954. Two years later he was resettling the Tonga people, rescuing stranded animals in Operation Noah and witnessing the preparation of the new lake bed for fishing. " It was an epic task," explains Brooks. " We had to clear over 350 square miles of dense bush so our nets wouldn't be snared by the dead trees." Huge tree trunks, linked in pairs by lengths of battleship anchor chain attached to 2.2m- high steel balls, scythed through the virgin bush a few feet above the ground. " I remember tall trees trembling violently, lurching forward and crashing in a cloud of dust, while hundreds of birds exploded into the skies," recalls Brooks. " And bulldozers trundled behind, pushing the debris forward into neat funeral pyres over five miles long." With the ashes buried, towering grass erupted from the fertile lake bed after the first rains and birds flocked from far and wide for an incredible fishing bonanza. A less welcome invasion, however, was the Nile cabbage, salvenia and water hyacinths that soon choked the new lake. " Weeds rippled in waves like a giant mattress and my kids used to jump in and bounce around," laughs Joe. The infestation was finally eradicated by raising and lowering the lake level and then painstakingly clearing the decaying vegetation. Today the Kariba shoreline offers a new way of life for many Zambians, with kapenta fishing having transformed the valley's economy. Thanks to this tiny, protein- rich, sardine- like fish, the towns of Sinazongwe and Siavonga are thriving. " Approximately 25,000 tonnes of kapenta are caught annually," explains Bernard Below: Elephant are numerous around the lake, often swimming across to graze on the islands